Monthly Archives: December 2013

Used to be that I’d use the holidays to empty my inbox. (My inbox being my de facto calendar and schedule). Start the new year fresh. That’s not going to happen this year. My inbox is full. Unanswered questions. Unresolved issues. An ongoing option negotiation, open-ended notes on Script #2 and the freelancing career backup-plan one big question mark. Cliffhangers all. And this Christmas and New Year’s falling on a Wednesday thing is the dogs balls, man. It’s a two week long freeze frame.

But so be it. I’ve put the inbox aside. Put the planning aside. Put work aside. For once, in a long long time. Gonna wait it out. Happy holidays everybody. Be good to each other.

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December 23, 2013 · 5:10 pm

The Bottom of the Heap

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ore often than not, Manager is eating during our phone calls. Not scarfing down a plate of spaghetti or anything obnoxious. But there’s been distinct… Snacking.

This isn’t the first time this has happened actually. I’ve been on video chats with producers popping back lunch. I like it, actually. Makes me feel a little more at ease. Like we’re just chatting. Not determining my fate.

None the less, I’d wager that when he’s chatting with his A-list clients, Manager’s not tossing back the trail mix. I’d go on to bet that the reason for these snack chats is that I’m still just something he fits in between real meetings.

Totally understandable. I pull the same deal when I call my mother. Because I’m a terrible son. And also because I have a raging addiction to workahol.

This week I’ve been bumped from Manager’s call list two days running. It’s happened before. It’s given me some time to re-analogizing my career path.

I used to see it as standing in line. Waiting for my number to come up. I learned early on that passes aren’t (necessarily) rejections of your talent. They’re indications of a script not being right for that particular exec at the time. And times change. Eventually, your number comes up. You get to the head of the line. To the counter.

This past year I got to the counter. But the counter’s a busy place.

Turns out, getting past the counter just puts you into a new place:

The bottom of the heap.

The option agreement negotiation is ongoing. No idea how long these proceedings normally last, but this seems excessive. I suspect it’s because, as with Manager, Lawyer’s got a few slightly bigger fish to fry than lil’ ol’ me.

That I’ve never gotten an email from him any earlier than 7:30pm, is a hint. It’s also a hint that Lawyer’s a pretty busy guy. His poor mother.

So this is my new lot. I’m the bottom of the heap. The afterthought. The we’ll get to him when we can.

But that’s cool.  Nowhere to go but up and all that. Sure beats not knowing if the phone will ring at all. If the inbox will remain empty forever.

Fact remains, as of yet, I haven’t yet made anybody else any money. That I’m in the heap at all, is a blessing.

Make other people rich, that’s how you climb. Climb up to where the air is clean. To where the emails arrive at 10am. To where I do the munching on the other end of the line.

Yeah… It’s gonna be sweet I tells ya.

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Most Likely To Succeed

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olidays. End of the year. Top ten lists to end top ten lists. I can’t help but take stock. More so these past few years than others.

Maybe that’s just part of getting older. Maybe it’s part of not yet having accomplished all that I want. I do a review. Count all the items on my list that remain unchecked.

The holidays bring it out. Can’t help but exacerbate the self reflection. It’s because of the gatherings. Friends, family, dinners, parties…

I was never voted anything in highschool. Nothing I remember, anyway. Certainly not most likely to succeed.

A few years ago, after a few glasses of wine, one of my best friends told me something. He said that on another occasion, (undoubtedly after another bottle of wine), he and another BFF of ours made a conclusion amongst themselves. They concluded that the only person within our tightly knit and enduring gang who would ever be capable of making any real money was me.

My Good Will Hunting moment. A sweet and tragic disclosure. My friends are guys who work for a living. Nine to five, void-of-fulfilment work. They’ve got their lives mapped out. Mortgage, kids, retirement. Drinks once a month with the old gang.

What my buddy was telling me was that I was the guy they were counting on to get out. To make it.

And now it’s the holidays. Friends, family, dinners, parties…

For the past five or six years, every gathering I’ve attended with my friends has come with a special announcement. Someone is either pregnant or buying a house. Every year.

Except this year. This year everybody’s kind of set. Mortgage, kids, saving for retirement.

And here I am… Standing with a glass in my hand. Nodding. Nothing new to report. An option agreement in negotiation. A negotiation that’s just dragging out. Can’t imagine it won’t go to the new year now. May never amount to anything anyway.

The get-togethers roll by. I see them coming and I keep hoping this will be it– Drinks on me! But nope. Standing and nodding.

My past is full of successes and failures. That’s life. And it’s enough when it’s your own private struggle. It’s something different when you’re apparently the mostly likely to succeed.

Holidays.

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I’d Like the Story I Wrote to be Written By Me

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o here’s something. Many people may not realize that writing credits on movies are not always terribly accurate.

Once upon a time writers would do work-for-hire scripting for studios. Paid to give up their inherent copyright. Thus their credit. Supposedly this doesn’t happen anymore, what with unions and laws and that sort of thing. But the concept of gang banging a script definitely persists.

These days, when a script is optioned or sold to a producer, it is often (maybe even always) re-written by another writer. Even multiple writers. However, presently, when things get a little muddy as far as authorship is concerned, some fat cat studio exec doesn’t just get to slap his girlfriend’s name on the byline.

These days WGA rules take over.

Now I don’t know all these rules. I’m not (yet) a WGA member. But my understanding is the credits are fairly self-regulating unless there’s a conflict. A conflict like whether a second writer has made enough of a contribution to receive equal credit.

In such a case, the guild steps in and tries to arbitrate a resolution. They base their decision on a double blind peer review. These peer writers seek to establish what percentage of the script was written by whom. The goal being to sort out who receives a “Written by” credit versus a “Screenplay by” credit.

“Written by” means you’re the author of the actual story. Not just a writer who’s come in and helped touch it up.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to it. Probably complicated as hell. Not entirely looking forward to being indoctrinate into that side of things. Though I’m sure it has its merits. Plus health insurance.

For the time being however, I’m outside the realm of the WGA. The WGAnywhere for that matter. And so are the producers with whom I’m currently negotiating an option for my script.

So I was surprised when Lawyer advised me that Producers’ probably wouldn’t accept my credit request. In our counter-offer I asked Lawyer to stipulate that I be guaranteed a sole onscreen “Written by” credit.

After all, with no WGA to protect me, I’ve got to protect myself. So why shouldn’t I demand that protection up front?

I suspect that Lawyer’s right. That Producers’ won’t like it. Probably because it might impede them from having another writer come on expecting credit. Which is kind of the point… But I’m not making the request to antagonize anyone. It’s really just about covering my own ass.

This isn’t about being precious. I expect to do rewrites. And if I fail to execute their changes, I expect that Producers’ll hire another writer to muck about with things. That’s the business. So be it. I’ve got other scripts. I’m here to get paid. If I wanted to be precious I’d write a novel and self-publish an ebook.

Why I’m covering my ass is because there won’t be a WGA arbitration committee set up if me and Writer B have a dispute. And if that somehow ever led to me getting second billing on a story that I authored… I… Would not… Be terribly happy.

It’s an issue of laying the foundation for a career. And if I’ve learned anything over years of trying to make it in this industry it’s that second to money, credits are the only things that carry any weight.

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Learning to Walk

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 don’t know how this is supposed to go. My only comfort is that I don’t think there’s a solitary answer to that question. As everybody’s path to a career in film is different, I imagine so is their experience with their first option negotiation.

Mine’s got me feeling like I’m on new legs. Taking my first few steps. Alone.

I didn’t think I’d be alone at this point. After all, I’ve spent two years querying managers and agents to avoid being alone. To have a partner. A team. People who do this professionally, around me.

But it’s not feeling like that at this particular moment.

Yes, I’ve got Manager. Yes, I’ve got Lawyer. Yes, I’ve got my own experience and thank goodness for that. It’s having Manager on as a producer for this script that’s really making my legs wobble.

I went looking for a manager because I wanted a guide. A man on the ground. Someone who knows the ins and outs. Has been here before. That’s what I wanted.

And that’s what I got and then some, far as I can tell. Manager seems like a really decent guy. Has working experience. Not only as a manager but as a producer. A successful producer. Which made his interest in producing my script even more validating. Enticing.

But that’s where the complication lies.

I’m learning to walk here and my guide isn’t around to hold my hand.

Manager and I agreed that during the negotiation part of the process he’d step aside. The negotiation is with the executive producers. The guys with the money. But ultimately they will be Manager’s partners when it comes to producing. Ultimately he will be a producer. In essence, my employer.

And your employer makes a rather poor guide when you’re negotiating your contract.

So he’s doing the right thing. Stepping aside. But it’s left me virtually alone out here taking my first steps. Fortunately, I do have Lawyer. And Lawyer’s great. Answer my questions. Works on commission so he wants to see results. All good stuff. But is he a guide? Not so much.

So I’m just wobbling cautiously forward. Trusting that Manager is a successful person and seems like a decent human being. That as such, he would choose to work with other decent human beings. Ergo Producers must be decent human beings. That Lawyer is a decent person who has something to gain by doing right by me. That everybody is moving toward the same goal. That I am not a complete and total egomaniacal primo uomo. That I won’t freak out and trip and fall.

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Leverage is Being Able to Walk Away

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awyer has outlined a counter-offer to the initial option agreement. It looks fair by what I’ve heard are industry standards. But compared to Producers’ initial lowball offer, it’s aggressive.

The next thing Lawyer asked was what kind of leverage we have.

I don’t know what kind of industry related jargon that may refer to, I just assume he means leverage leverage. Power of influence. Hand. So I told him all I could about my side of things.

And I felt confident. At first.

All I’ve had is positive responses to this script. It’s being tracked by a couple other places. I even received another option offer a few months back. I left it open ended to see how this relationship with Manager would pan out.

I can only guess that Manager has been keeping Producers abreast of all of this. He’s their would-be partner after all.

So is that leverage? It sounds like leverage. If they think I’ve got other options (literally and figuratively) then that’s power of influence in my corner, right?

My only experience in these matters is watching my wife-like creature haggle with bohemians at flea markets. The leverage in those circumstances are things like how many other people are looking at the seller’s wares. What’s the competition like. Is it early or near closing time. But there’s one important element of leverage that supersedes all others. Whether you’re haggling at a flea market or negotiating a contract that may well launch your career.

The ability to walk away.

Now, I’ll walk away from an antique set of spoons… But an opportunity to launch my career…

So do I truly have any leverage in this option negotiation?

I had another offer. But I passed on it in order to pursue a relationship with Manager. Is that door still open? Maybe. But I sure couldn’t expect much in the way of leverage crawling back there.

And with Manager tied so closely to this current offer, could I really walk away and not expect to lose Manager as well? Probably not.

So leverage?

In reality? Not so much.

Unless you include dignity. There’s always that. I could get such a crappy final offer that dignity compels me to walk away out of principle.

… Please don’t let it come down to dignity.

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Log Jam

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ot writing today. Not working on a script. Any script. Trying to give the output a break. This isn’t to say I’m not still working on writing.

I think I may already be butting up against the pace of Hollywood.

I write a lot. Not just grocery lists either. I don’t write anything unless I think it’s got a chance of materializing. And right now, with negotiations started on an option agreement, I’m more enthusiastic about focusing on the writing than ever.

In the past six months I’ve written two new scripts. Several drafts now of each. Started another one on top of that and have two or three more in the research stage.

Here’s the problem: Time was I would just press on blindly. Write whatever I guessed might have a shot at breaking in. Now I’ve got Manager. My man on the ground. My advisor. No more need to play best guess. However, I know that Manager’s not just gonna query everything I churn out up and down Wilshire Blvd.. What I choose to write from here on out has to be on point. So I pitch Manager before I write.

Or I should.

I’m just not there yet mentally to be able to pitch Manager at the rate that I write. It feels like it would be too much. That I’d be swamping him with material. Like it could be perceived as delivering quantity over quality. And maybe it is. Or maybe that’s just my process. Vomit out two bad scripts for every solid one. Only time’s going to tell on that one.

Manager’s got other clients. Clients who’ve already proven themselves. Have made him money. Far as I’m concerned I’m still just a wannabe client. So how much can I throw at him before he says, hey, kid, take it easy!

So I’m trying to pace myself. Let myself settle into the rhythm of this industry. How many scripts do working writers average a year? Is there an average? All questions for Manager, but one step at a time.

Meanwhile I’ve got this log jam of writing building up on my end. Cluttering up my mind.

Need to calm things down.

So no writing today. No conscious thought about stories and characters. No research. No deliberation.

I’ve learned this absence of actual writing is still very much a part of the process. The wheels never stop turning even when I put my brain in neutral. So I’m sure subconsciously, I am still working. Editing. Rebooting.

And that’s what was needed right now.

Tomorrow, however, is a whole new day.

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